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Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt finish in top 10 at Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted strong runs on Sunday at Kansas Speedway to improve their chances in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Gordon, who finished third, climbed one spot in the standings and now ranks fourth (32 points behind leader Matt Kenseth). Johnson, ranked second, took sixth on Sunday and narrowed Kenseth’s lead to just three points with five races remaining in the championship hunt. Earnhardt picks up two spots and now ranks eighth (54 points behind Kenseth).

Kasey Kahne remains 13th in the driver standings after finishing 15th on Sunday.

Here are the recaps by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 15th.
Chase standings: 13th.
Recap: Kasey Kahne started Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event from the 15th position and reported a loose-handling condition as the race opened.  Running 19th by the second caution period on Lap 41, crew chief Kenny Francis told Kahne he was clocking some good lap times. Francis called for four tires, fuel and chassis adjustment during the yellow-flag period, and Kahne began to make up ground around Kansas Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. Kahne cracked the top 10 by Lap 96. Francis the No. 5 crew continually tweaked the handling of the Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS, and Kahne reported that his race car was driving better. Kahne held steady and restarted fifth after the 12th caution period of the race. The yellow flag was waved immediately after a spin on track to signal 13 caution periods – a season- and track-high – and Kahne lined up sixth this time. He was stalled slightly when his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun his tires from the fourth spot.  Kahne dropped to 11th and picked up a spot before hitting pit road during green-flag stops on Lap 220. The persistent caution periods made it hard for Kahne to make up track position, and he crossed the finish line 15th.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Third.
Chase standings: Fourth.
Recap: Jeff Gordon rolled off the grid 14th on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, and by Lap 30, he had moved into 12th. Gordon worked with crew chief Alan Gustafson on the handling of the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet SS and continually picked up spots on pit road. When the caution flag was waved on Lap 41, Gordon was running 12th. He left pit road running fourth with fresh right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Throughout the course of the race, Gordon and Gustafson learned that four tires made the No. 24 Chevy SS tighter so they primarily opted for right-sides. Gordon moved into third on the restart, but settled into fourth and held steady with teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson inside the top five. Misfortune struck for the No. 24 team when Gordon was making a green-flag pit stop, and NASCAR officials waved the yellow flag for debris on the track on Lap 87. Gordon took the ensuing wave-around, but restarted 28th. He quietly began working his way through the field and improved to run seventh by Lap 156, when NASCAR waved the yellow flag for smoke outside the racetrack. Back on track, Gordon was racing for position when he received contact from the No. 78 car, and he dropped to 11th. Gordon, running 13th, narrowly avoided a spin on Lap 197 and opted against pitting during the 12th caution period of the race. The 13th caution flag was waved immediately after the next restart at Lap 200. Gordon took advantage of this yellow-flag period for four tires, fuel and adjustments. He made one more stop for fuel before returning to the track and restarting 29th with 61 laps to go. Gordon improved to 12th by the time the 14th caution flag was waved, and he stopped for right-side tires and fuel. The No. 24 team picked up eight spots on pit road, and Gordon lined up fourth for the restart. He improved to second with 35 laps to go and held on for the third-place finish.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Sixth.
Chase standings: Second.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson, a two-time Kansas winner, started Sunday’s race in third and improved to battle for the lead by Lap 80. He finally won the top spot on Lap 83 and paced the field for five laps before attempting to make his green-flag stop. As he committed to pit road, NASCAR officials waved the yellow flag for debris, and Johnson rolled through pit road to keep from getting penalized.  The ill-timed stop cost Johnson track position, and he restarted in 17th. By Lap 103, Johnson had cracked the top 10. He was running sixth when the caution flag was waved on Lap 112, and reported to crew chief Chad Knaus that his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS was tight in the center of Turns 1 and 2. During the yellow-flag period, Johnson made a 6.3-second stop for right-side tires, fuel and adjustments. He restarted seventh, but struggled to get much further initially thanks to a plethora of caution flags. He climbed to fourth by Lap 170, when the caution flag was waved yet again. This time, Johnson stopped for four tires, fuel and adjustments. With two tires being the popular call, Johnson restarted 25th. He improved to 10th fewer than 10 laps later by the time the yellow flag was waved for debris. By Lap 200, the caution flag had waved a record 13 times, and Johnson was struggling for track position on restarts.  Johnson restarted 10th on Lap 207 and improved to run fifth 14 laps later when green-flag stops began. But the 14th caution flag preempted his green-flag stop, and Johnson toured pit road during the yellow flag. Knaus made sure the No. 48 Chevy SS was full of fuel, which meant Johnson restarted 14th. Johnson cracked the top 10 with 32 laps left and improved to finish sixth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Eighth.
Chase standings: Eighth.
Recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified sixth for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Kansas Speedway and was running fourth by Lap 9. The driver of the No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS moved into second after pitting during the Lap 42 caution period. Eight laps later, he told crew chief Steve Letarte the race car was tight entering the corners, but he continued to reel in leader Kevin Harvick. A piece of trash on Earnhardt’s grille slowed his chase, though, and Earnhardt slipped to third before rallying to take the lead on Lap 87. He inherited the lead as his teammate and previous leader Jimmie Johnson hit pit road and NASCAR officials waved the yellow flag. Earnhardt maintained the top spot after a four-tire and fuel stop, but couldn’t hold onto the No. 1 position coming to the green. He ran in second and utilized a subsequent pit stop under caution to reclaim the lead. He led three times for eight laps during the next 30 circuits. Letarte and the No. 88 team continually tinkered on the No. 88 Chevy SS, while Earnhardt maintained footing inside the top 10 as the race unfolded. A series of caution periods made it difficult for the No. 88 team to make up substantial ground quickly, but Earnhardt had climbed to third by Lap 194. After the 13th caution flag was waved – a season-best and a track-high – Earnhardt lined up fourth for the restart. He slowed for the front-runners, wound up spinning his tires and dropping to 12th. He climbed through the field to finish eighth.

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